Hydrotech (www.hydrotech.com) application engineers recently developed a unique motion control and automation solution that simulates a microgravity or weightless environment for experimentation by science, mathematics and engineering students taking part in AEL (Aerospace Education Laboratory) college-level programs across the US. Using an upgraded belt-driven motion control system powered by AC servo motors from Bosch Rexroth (www.boschrexroth.com), the Hydrotech engineered application was important to Microgravity Demonstrator “drop tower” unit, which is recently supplied to six universities by Paragon Tech (www.paragontech.com).
The self-contained Microgravity Demonstrator has a motion controlled drop tower that accelerates objects to 32ft/sec², simulating a free-fall, micro-gravity condition that matches the weightlessness experienced when traveling in space or orbiting the Earth. Through a slow motion video camera system, the students can observe five experiments in weightless conditions at brief periods.
Hydrotech’s servo-controlled system uses motion automation solution to overcome the negative impact of friction that would usually occur in a free-fall experiment. “It took over four months to design, develop and program the motion profiles needed for simulating a frictionless acceleration and deceleration in free fall,” said David Sopko, an engineer at Hydrotech. “A nearly instantaneous accel-decel was key to extending weightless conditions for the time duration required to observe the microgravity experiments in an earth-bound classroom setting.”
Aided by the motion control engineering team from Hydrotech, Paragon Tech has designed six Microgravity Demonstrators for universities with two more units on order so far. “This unit applies motion control engineering and AC servo motor technology that Hydrotech typically provides for advanced industrial automation systems,” Sopko added. “Who would have thought that our expertise could be used to help educate and excite the next generation of space explorers.”